Dec 15, 2022 - World

Azerbaijani protesters block key road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia

Members of an Azerbaijani environmental group block the Lachin Corridor, where the Armenian population lives and Russian forces are temporarily deployed, in Shushi along the Nagorno Karabkah border on Dec. 14. Photo: Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia remains blocked by Azerbaijani civilians for a third day Wednesday.

Why it matters: The blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only connection between Armenia and the region, cuts off the people of Nagorno-Karabakh from the outside world at the same time Azerbaijan cut gas supply during freezing winter temperatures, per Karabakh’s state-run InfoCenter.

Details: The group of Azerbaijanis claimed they closed the Stepanakert-Goris highway to protest environmental issues, according to InfoCenter.

The big picture: Hostilities between the two countries persist despite a September ceasefire that came after Azerbaijan launched another attack on Armenia, escalating a decades-long dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the population of which is predominantly Armenian.

What they're saying: "Closure of the Lachin Corridor has severe humanitarian implications and sets back the peace process," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. "We call on the government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through the corridor."

  • "It is disturbing that the only time the people of Azerbaijan are allowed to freely protest is when it threatens the lives of Armenians," the Congressional Caucus on Armenia, which includes Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and David Valadao (R-Calif.), said in a statement.
  • "Their blockade of the Lachin Corridor appears coordinated and intended to shut off the only remaining supply route for much of Artsakh’s food, medical supplies and transport, and other essential goods, not to mention further restrict the people of Artsakh’s freedom of movement," the caucus continued.
  • "Additional reports allege that Azerbaijan has also shut off one of the major sources of natural gas for civilians in the territory, potentially leaving tens of thousands without heating as temperatures plummet, much like it did earlier this year in March."
  • The European Union also issued a statement, calling on "the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure freedom and security of movement along the corridor."

Context: A trilateral agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in 2020 to end a large-scale war stated that the Lachin Corridor would remain under the control of Russian peacekeepers and that Azerbaijan had to guarantee the safe movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions.

  • Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the road was closed by the Russian peacekeepers, not Azerbaijanis.

But, but, but: Armenia's Foreign Ministry said, "The propagandistic preparations for closing the Lachin Corridor started months ago and it is obvious that this provocation was organized by the state bodies of Azerbaijan, aiming to cut off Nagorno-Karabakh from the Republic of Armenia and thus from the outside world."

Of note: Schools in Nagorno-Karabakh are being shut down, Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan announced Wednesday, adding that residents should conserve electricity.

  • Some families are now cut off from one another, including Artak Beglaryan, Advisor to State Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, who is stranded in Yerevan after being unable to reenter Karabakh.
  • Beglaryan, who called for international sanctions, started a sit-in protest in front of the United Nations office in Armenia’s capital.

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